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Ask the Pediatrician: What changes can families make to mitigate the effects of climate change?

Dr. Rebecca Philipsborn, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

Q: The news about climate change is overwhelming. Are there steps average people can take that actually make a difference?

A: Climate change can be scary and overwhelming for children and families. It causes harm from storms, wildfires, emerging illnesses and heat and air pollution. Many of these harms build upon one another to worsen child health.

If the problem feels overwhelming, you aren't alone. Recently, 10,000 people ages 16 to 25 from 10 countries were surveyed about climate change and government responses to climate change. Over half said they felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty; 83% agreed that people have failed to take care of the planet.

The good news is some of the actions needed to reduce climate change will improve children's health. It will take big changes to shift toward clean energy and away from polluting energy sources and activities. But even small choices that parents and kids make every day can have a big impact — and, in turn, are better for our health.

For example, choosing to spend time in nature and green spaces is good for a child's physical and mental health. And adding more green space with trees for shade reduces extreme heat in cities.

In the United States, two sources — electricity and transportation — cause the most greenhouse gas emissions. The greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation collect in the earth's atmosphere. The use of fossil fuels for energy also causes pollution on the ground and in our neighborhoods.

 

Shifting to renewable energy, like solar and wind power, improves air quality. This change will help children breathe less polluted air and improve children's health now and in the future. Cleaner air can improve birth outcomes and children's cardiovascular, respiratory and neurologic health.

Biking, walking and public transportation also help keep the air clean and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing active and alternative transportation can help connect people with their communities and boost their physical fitness.

Some types of food, including red meat, contribute more to climate change and are less healthy for children. Food waste also releases a potent greenhouse gas called methane into the air that worsens climate change.

Some diet changes to consider:

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